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Get that pretty blurry background in your photos - Aperture Priority Mode Explained

Let me bought a new fancy camera knowing that it would instantly improve the quality of your photos, right? But your photos still seem flat and you are frustrated that your investment isn't paying off. Is your camera set to the {safe} little green rectangle? Using automatic mode, we are relying on the camera to think for us and leaves us with 90% of the camera's capabilities untapped. But you have the power to tell your camera who's boss and create some stunning portraits - and it's {way} easier than you think.

Go grab your camera...I'll wait. Ok, now look on top and find the little dial on top & switch it to {Av or A} mode. This mode is similar to the Portrait mode we discussed earlier however you get to gain even more control! Don't let the word aperture scare you off - essential aperture (or sometimes called f-stop) refers to how much of your image is in focus. Higher number (like f/16 & f/22) mean more of the image is in focus and low numbers (like f.4 & f/1.8) mean less of the image is in focus.

So, what does aperture priority mean and how do I use it? When you're camera is set to {Av or A} mode, this means that you get to set the f-stop and your camera will take care of the rest. To set your desired aperture (which we will discuss below), you will spin the little dial next to your right index finger. While doing this, look inside your viewfinder and you will see a bunch of numbers change - you want to look for the {weird} numbers like 2.5, 5.6, 8, etc. As you change the aperture, the camera automatically changes the other numbers but don't worry about that. (Note: make sure your ISO is set to auto - not sure how do that? Find your manual {is it still wrapped in the shrink wrap?} and check the index for ISO). Take note of the largest and the smallest number your f-stop will range - this is dependent on what lens you have so know that your aperture may only go down to 4.5 and that's perfectly fine.

Ok, now comes the fun experiment to really illustrate how setting the aperture can drastically change the look of your photos.

Grab any object {a glass, toy, or your spouse if they are able and willing} and place them in front of a pleasing background. In my experiment I chose one of my toddler's toys and headed outside to find some flowers. Now, set your object about 3-5 feet in front of the background. You are now going to take a sequence of 4-5 photos. Set your aperture on a large number, snap a pic. Then without moving, change your aperture (spin the dial with your index finger) to a lower number and snap another pic. Keep doing this until you get down to your smallest f-stop - you don't have to hit each number but just get a good variety. In my example, I did f/16, f/8, f/4, f/2,5 & f/1.8.

What do you notice? In the f/16 image above, the entire photo is in focus, including the bush and wall in the background. And as you stop down, more and more of the image becomes blurry. In the f/1.8 photo, the flowers in the foreground are blurry as well as the bush and wall in the background. Pretty cool, huh?

Know that each lens has a different aperture range {like we talked about above} as well as the quality of the blur. Better lens will produce creamier-looking bokeh - that's just a fancy photography word that means blur. So depending on which lens you have, you may not see a big difference. If your DSLR camera came with a lens when you bought it, your lens is most likely the "kit" lens and not the best quality. When you're ready and want to invest in your camera, consider upgrading to a higher quality lens like the 50mm f/1.8 lens {it's about $100}.

Here's another set of images that display the differences in aperture from f/16 and f/1.8.

In addition to the f-stop, another trick to create more bokeh {blur} is to create more distance between your subject and the background. The further between the subject and background, the more blur that will be created. And similarly, the more distance between yourself {the photographer} and the subject, the more blur, especially in the foreground.

In the two examples below, each set was taken at the same f-stop but the toy was placed at varying distances between the background and myself. You can see that even at f/16, the right photos have a bit more blur in the background than the others. And the set taken at f/1.8 is a lot different with the various placements.

Take some time to experiment with this and know that it will take awhile to get the hang of it. That's the great thing about digital photography - you don't have to worry about wasting film and that delete button is a wonderful thing when things go wrong. Now get out there and show your camera who's in charge and create some beautiful {bohek-alicious} photos.

We will talk about this and {so much more} in the Let's Click! workshop. See you in class.


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